Foreword by LaSha.
“They Black?” I have a friend who used to shoot off this question anytime I told her about a tragedy I’d heard about on the news. The reason for my recount of the details of the incident were always irrelevant to her when the answer to that question wasn’t affirmative. “Well, what the fuck that got to do with me?”
It makes me chuckle now. She no longer asks me that question because now, if my point in telling her about the tragedy visited upon a non-Black person, especially a white person, is to demonstrate a point (and it’s always to demonstrate a point because I swear the pathology of whiteness always makes a point) I work in reverse order. I first discuss how it illustrates some facet of white supremacist indoctrination or the elevation of white humanity, and then recall the details of the story.
I always understood her line of thinking. A Black woman’s mind is so constantly consumed with navigating this world through her Blackness, which means demanding her humanity in all spaces, that she cannot afford to sacrifice even one minute of her fight to empathize with those who make her apathy and indifference necessary. She doesn’t care about what happens to white people, and for Black people, that blindness to white suffering however vindictive it may seem — and I promise you no people are more fitting recipients of Black vindictiveness than the white collective — is less about the retribution they deserve than it is a strategy to preserve the empathy and humanity our own are starved for. Simply, Black people can never afford to add our voices to the outcry over white people who meet the same fate as we have.
That white woman who was killed by a Black cop in Minnesota — and I don’t mention her name because I’ve not made the effort to commit it to memory as the space her name etched in my memory would take has already been lovingly and infuriatingly reserved for the next (and there’s always a next) Black victim of state-sanctioned violence — is not important to me. And her humanity has yet to come to the debate floor as with Sandra, Korryn, Philando, Tamir, Mariam, Sean, Oscar, Rekia, Tanisha, Jordan, Trayvon, Eric, Akai, Charleena and all the rest of mine. And they are mine because unlike this immigrant white woman whose carefree grin keeps darkening my timeline, those Black victims and I share the kinship of dehumanization, oppression and doubt. I will never dishonor them by speaking her name or the name of any white person executed by the same regime that the white collective enables, encourages and reveres. Let them do their own fucking mourning as we have always had to do ours alone.
Julian makes it clear why radical, purposeful, committed indifference is paramount to Black survival.
Audio Essay by Julian Long.
Production by DJ Big Styles.
A month or so back a white boy died in America somewhere after having been released from a foreign country where he’d violated a law, was held, and later released only after having fallen into a coma.
Or something like that.
Pardon me for not knowing the details, but remaining somewhat oblivious is critical both to this piece and to my well being.
Anyway, the white boy died and some of y’all got real in your feels about it.
I’m not talking to those of you who wrung out a few tears on his behalf – there are too few of you to focus on – I’m talking to the great many more of you who took to these social media streets, danced up and down memorial walls spraying piss and epithets in place of epitaphs, while presumably “Brand New Day” played somewhere in the background.
No. Better question. Where?
Where’d you find the energy for such celebration?
We didn’t win anything. Abstract white pain does not remedy specific Black grief. No scales were balanced. None were tipped in our favor.
And, are we not tired – our feet sore from marching, knees calcified from standing, waiting our turn, blood-clots in our legs from sitting-in, attending the justice we were promised the system would one day deliver – lungs collapsed from trying to resuscitate a dream so long deferred that it died?
How then do we raise our bodies to dance during their dirge when in just under two days statistically speaking, we will be called on to march at the last rites of one our our own denied their first right: life.
I cannot dance along the walls of memoriam or the halls of injustice. I am too tired. And beyond that I – quite literally – cannot afford to care.
White (liberal racism) too often pulls the double standard of antagonizing us over the bodies of our slain while agonizing over their own.
The bullet torn body of a seven-year-old Black girl is relegated to the foot of the insurmountable hill of “Black Issues”, while the death of a “most innocent” white woman is placed at the summit of peak “Human Condition,” and we, Black people, are expected to choose a hill to die on.
It is a cruel but true irony that as a people who are incessantly pinned down as ‘less than’, we are required by the agents of hegemony to be ‘better than’, ‘greater than’, and ‘more than’, when it comes to performances of empathy and compassion.
They have shown us that choosing the alternative, and mocking their suffering invites swift rebuke and punishment heaped like hot coals on our backs already scarred by the lashings of centuries old oppression and injustice.
As I reject most hegemonic systems of control, when faced with interrogation by aggrieved whites demanding an appropriate “Black response” to the latest “human tragedy” I have increasingly opted out in favor of a new approach: radical indifference.
Black people, we have cried so many tears we are dehydrated, and white people who’ve never so much as given us a sip of water when we were parched with grief are appalled that we don’t pour out libation in honor of their dead.
Commiserating and co-agonizing alongside them costs tears that we can ill-afford to shed, as reddened eyes will fail to discern the attack patterns of oppression when blurred by tears.
But, antagonism affords us nothing, and costs sweat equity better spent in fighting to save our lives rather than celebrate their loss.
Drinking white tears is hazardous to your health. So my challenge is – keep our own water and nourish each other. It’s only a matter of time before that water is wrung from your eyes over the body of another slain Black child.
As a “good Christian man,” I must call such indifference radical. After all, it flies in the face of the white liberal’s savior, and paragon of good Blackness, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said:
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
But Dr. King also said:
“Every man lives in two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live.”
I live in both realms: internally my moral and religious core are grieved by the tragedy of all human suffering but externally, I must be vigilantly aware of the oppressive devices and techniques that shape how I live.
The agenda to enforce our empathy — to demand our compassion even in the face of ongoing personal terrorism, is a mechanism to recalibrate the monitors through which Black people view the world; a desperate attempt to lower the contrasts of Black and white until the details of racially specific atrocities are abstracted and our pain and “all pain” are muddled in a hazy field of grey.
In this grey new world we will be ignorantly blind to the highly selective instruments of injustice whose sharpness and deliberate color contrast bring death to our communities in high resolution.
So, non, je ne suis pas Charlie; I do not weep with the nation over “the most innocent victim.” I am a Black man who is still afraid when I walk my own neighborhood with the hood of my sweatshirt pulled up – even when it’s raining. And it’s always raining.
I cannot pretend for white people’s sake that our grief and suffering are the same. History and hegemony have proven this false. I have to remain aware that my death, as my life, is valued differently by the rest of the world. The painful fact is that my seemingly casual indifference is anything but casual. It is tactical and essential to my survival.
Julian Long loves hard, that’s just what the fuck he does. Among his chief loves are: writing, photography, great design, bowties, comics, his puppy, God, His Mama and His People. Black people. Find out more about his loves on Facebook. You could hit up his twitter @magnet4awesome, but it’s dusty.